In his 1993 Tanner Lecture delivered to the Mormon History Association, historian Richard Hughes suggested that “romanticism quickly emerged as the defining intellectual influence [of the Mormon Church] … and this was the difference that made all the difference.” In a similar vein, Jacksonian scholar and Joseph Smith biographer Robert Remini concluded that “Joseph was a romantic to his innermost fiber.” The connection between romanticism and early Mormonism is a fascinating one that deserves further attention.
However, scholars should take caution in approaching the subject and keep in mind a few important differences between romantic thought and Joseph Smith’s theology and worldview. The definition and description of Deity is one of the more significant differences. The English romanticist William Blake, for example, spoke of the Divine by merely referring to human characteristics:
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
Is God our Father dear;
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
Is man, His child and care…
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine:
Love Mercy, Pity, Peace. (Blake, “The Divine Image,” Songs of Innocence.)
The influential Percy Shelley, on the other hand, spoke of a divine power in platonic terms, meaning he asserts ideal forms as an absolute and eternal reality of which the phenomena of the world are an imperfect and transitory reflection. These ideal forms, which can be termed as “universals,” do not exist in the way that ordinary physical objects exist, but have a sort of ghostly or heavenly mode of existence. This is most commonly seen in his poem “Mont Blanc”:
The everlasting unversie of things
Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
Now dark – now glittering – now reflecting gloom –
Now lending splendor, where from secret springs
The source of human thought its tribute brings
Of waters, – with a sound but half its own,
Such as a feeble brook will oft assume
In the wild woods, amon the mountains lone,
Where waterfalls around it leap for ever,
Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river
Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves. (lines 1-11)
William Mulder (mistakenly, in my opinion) groups Joseph with these other romantic writers by claiming that “his was the perennial despair of visionaries striving how to say the unsayable….[he was] nearly blinded by God’s waylaying light, [turning] to analogy and metaphor, finding in nature ‘images and shadows of divine things.'”
However, I see Joseph breaking away from this tradition. Joseph’s deity had “a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” (D&C 130:22), and when he unveiled the “great secret” of God, it was that He is “like a man in form–like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man.” To Joseph, there was no such thing as “immaterial matter”, because even “all spirit is matter” (D&C 131:7). Therefore, all things, whether heavenly or not, can be described with terms we are used to, because there is no vast difference between them. Because of this “collapse of the sacred,” as Givens puts it, profound things can be spoken of in simple ways.
 Richard Hughes, “Two Restoration Traditions: Mormons and Churches of Christ in the 19th Century,” Journal of Mormon History 19.1 (Spring 1993): 45.
 Robert V. Remini, “Biographical Reflections on the American Joseph Smith,” in The Worlds of Josph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress, edited by John W. Welch, Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 2006, 24.
 I confess that this is a drastically simplistic reading of Blake by not going into how these lines are to be viewed within their larger framework of “innocence” and “experience.” A further discussion of these points is tangential to this post, and was consequently ommitted.
 William Mulder, “‘Essential Gestures’: Craft and Calling in Contemporary Mormon Letters,” Weber Studies 10.3 (fall 1993): 7, in Terryl Givens, Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy, New York: Oxford Press, 1997, 89.
 History of the Church 6:305